‘Death on the Nile:’ Smooth sailing or a total shipwreck? 

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Famed detective Hercule Poirot is back on the silver screen in this weekend’s new release “Death on the Nile.”  

Like the first installment in the Agatha Christie mystery franchise, “Murder on the Orient Express,” the film boasts an ensemble cast full of well-known actors. The boat-based murder-mystery is directed by and stars Kenneth Branagh (who plays Poirot), as well as Tom Bateman, Annette Bening, Russell Brand, Gal Gadot, Letitia Wright and the now maligned Armie Hammer. 

Though there was interest in the film before the allegations, the Armie Hammer sexual abuse situation put “Death on the Nile” under a different light leading up to its release. Most of the media coverage of the film surrounded Hammer’s presence in marketing and, whether or not he would be cut entirely from the film itself after horrific allegations against him were made public in January 2021. 

Ultimately, Hammer’s role was not cut from the film as his character plays a major role in the storyline. That being said, those who are aware of the allegations may find his scenes difficult to watch, concerning the nature of the sequences. 

It is difficult to not compare “Death on the Nile” with 2019’s smash-hit “Knives Out,” since both films have ensemble casts, are in the same genre and almost have the same runtime. 

Though it may not be a fair comparison, “Knives Out” is simply the better murder mystery for several reasons. 

For one, “Knives Out” has a better sense of rhythm than “Death on the Nile.” The characters and writing style of “Knives Out”  mesh perfectly, creating a film that just flows so smoothly. “Death on the Nile” doesn’t have the magic that the 2019 film does and that may be due to a few reasons.  

First, the film gets off to a slow start. It takes about an hour of runtime before the titular “Death on the Nile” occurs, compared to how the first frame in “Knives Out” features the murder. This slow start is felt the most between the 30-minute mark and the hour mark, as plot elements are retread from the first half-hour and not much story progression is made. Once the film gets rolling, the movie settles into a much better pacing but does not approach the prowess of “Knives Out”. 

Second, “Death on the Nile” does not let the performers shine as “Knives Out” did. The 2019 film is full of terrific performances, from Daniel Craig’s comedic Southern accent to Chris Evans’ playing an egotistical heir to Ana de Armas’ playing an anxious, trepidatious nurse, the mix of characters and personalities lead to something brilliant being created on screen. Though “Death on the Nile” has an equally impressive cast as “Knives Out” it just doesn’t share that energy in performance. The performers are not given the same opportunity to showcase their charisma, with less comedy and fewer moments to highlight their acting abilities. Ultimately, I think “Death on the Nile” would have worked much better if the actors were allowed to heighten their performances. 

Another reason why “Death on the Nile” is not on the level of “Knives Out” are the thematic elements. “Knives Out,” while a comedic murder mystery, cleverly tells a story that criticizes upper-class Americans, particularly those that claim to be progressive yet are actually backward-thinking. “Death on the Nile” is far less clever in its themes. It is a story of greed and love and how that pushes people towards their worst selves, which is an unoriginal premise for a murder mystery. This makes the movie less fresh and exciting than “Knives Out” as it just does not share its cleverness in plot and story. 

That being said, “Death on the Nile” is not without its positive elements. Branagh’s Poirot is quite fun to watch, being the most charismatic character of the film. Gadot delivers probably the best dramatic performance of her career, though she is not given much material to work with in the film. If there is any breakout star from this ensemble film, it is definitely Emma Mackey. She is best known for her role in the Netflix series “Sex Education” but Mackey shines in “Death on the Nile.” She gives the best performance of the film by far, elevating her scenes beyond their dramatic potential. Mackey is going to be an actor to watch these next few years; this is definitely the start to something bigger for her.  

Ultimately, though “Death on the Nile” has a strong ensemble cast and interesting premise, it has problems with pacing, lacks charisma in its performances and does not tell a particularly clever story. For that reason, I would only give this film a very moderate recommendation. 

Rating: 3.55/5 

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